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Rules of Golf

Rules Review: I thought my ball was lost and put another in play, then found my first in the hole(!) Which ball counts?

February 15, 2023
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robertcicchetti

If you play golf long enough, you'll realize it's a cruel game. Remember that escape shot you hit that rocketed off the clubface and was curving perfectly toward the green only to be deflected by one, skinny, puny, bleepin’ branch? How about that car alarm in your backswing? Or missing a two-footer because it was re-routed by someone's poor attempt to fix a pitch mark? You get the idea.

You might think that perhaps the cruelest of cruel scenarios would be to hole out a shot, not realize you holed out (maybe it was a blind shot) and begin playing a substituted ball thinking the original was lost. Then you get to the hole and look down and the original is at the bottom of the cup!

Knowing the way things typically break in this game, you might assume you just blew your chance at an eagle or hole-in-one or some incredible par save. After all, a subsection of Rule 6.3 says a substituted ball is in play when the original ball is no longer in play, even if it is at rest on the course. So you probably think you have to take the stroke-and-distance penalty for a lost ball and continue on with the substituted ball.

However … you actually don't.

Sometimes the Rules of Golf actually have a softer side after all. Rule 6.5 states that, regardless of your actions, the original ball was considered holed the second it came to rest at the bottom of the cup. Nothing else matters.

Here's how it's worded: “If a player does not know that they have completed a hole and attempts to continue play of the hole, the player’s further play is not considered to be practice nor do they get a penalty for playing another ball, including a wrong ball.”

Granted, this is a rare occurrence, but it has happened (or the Rules of Golf wouldn't have addressed it). So congratulations. Not only do you get to count that shot on your scorecard, you've got a great story to tell the next time there are three groups waiting to play a par 3.

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